Presently, there are 145,000 millionaires in the continent with a combined wealth of $800 billion. This is according to the Africa Wealth Report released this month which also states that there will be 36% more millionaires by the year 2020. Africa’s Pulse, a biannual report by the World Bank has indicated that the SSA economy is rebounding quite well and is projected to reach 2.6% in 2017. Several other reports have talked about Africa’s seemingly upward trajectory in economic growth citing various sectors that need quick reforms in order to secure the said growth. Yet the trickle-down effects of this economic positivity cannot be felt by a majority of the people. In fact, the number of people living in extreme poverty has significantly increased over the years.
One proven way to develop strong economies and reduce poverty throughout history has been through industrialization. In Africa, the manufacturing sector in many countries has at best grown only marginally compared to other sectors and the share of contribution to the GDP is unimpressive. It is through labour-intensive industries however, that we can be assured of providing sustainable jobs that bring about equity and equality. Without these the disparities will continue to lurk behind every leap we make in the development of our continent.
As we make our cities attractive for more investments, we must make sure that the economic models we develop from now hence forth will be sufficient to carry everyone along for the sake of sustainability. Such models cannot be developed using the ‘business as usual’ school of thought that has brought us to this point. We need to re-strategize, rethink and reposition.
The Human Development Index has stated that every African country has dipped in equality since the year 2010. Ironically, these are the years that have seen proclamations of inclusivity and equity embedded into political manifestos and corporate visions. The intent to be inclusive is one thing, but we need to mine existing research, data, and trends in order to make inclusivity more impactful. For instance, I believe that a lot of the methods employed for inclusivity so far, have subconsciously pigeon-holed women’s contribution and labour into roles, sectors and employment levels that have always been thought to be ‘feminine’. Hence, you will find that work places for example will try to be inclusive by hiring more women who are kitchen staff, front desk attendants, assistants and so forth with the representation of women thinning as you go towards the top. While this does provide jobs for many, is it yielding the trickle-down effect that we would like to see? Absolutely not.
Similarly, for start-ups, small companies or cottage industries there exists, in the current set-up, an implicit bias in the sectors, business ideas, expansion plans that are backed by most financial institutions, business advisors and investment partners. Ultimately, driving women participation in some sectors and yet exceedingly denying them opportunities in other sectors that could use their contribution even more.
A quick look at the manufacturing sector, for example, will reveal that between now and the year 2030, approximately 85 million jobs will migrate out of China, and African countries can position themselves to absorb them according to the Brookings Institution. Add to this the fact that human capital and talent development has been cited among three very critical factors that will shape the future of competition in industry between countries. The irony is in many African countries, industry is currently facing a skills gap that is compromising their productivity.
All the while women are ushered and cramped into ‘familiar’ and ‘feminine’ sectors which have undoubtedly become incapable of tapping into their productivity, towards economic growth for our nations. Isn’t this the opportune time to bring women into manufacturing to take advantage of the global tidings coming our way? 85 Million Productive jobs for this continent is enough to tremendously narrow the widening poverty gap and guarantee sustainability for our continent’s future.
Winnie Byanima (Oxfam Exec. Director) in her compelling article for the World Economic Forum on Africa 2017, alluded to this by stating that in order to change the currently cycle that continues to entrench poverty, “a more human economy must be established, which meets the needs of African women and young people”. Industrialization is the only guaranteed way for African economies to become fully self-sustaining, growing stronger into the future. However, industrialization cannot be achieved without the full involvement of women and their contribution.
How can we make STEM education, for instance accessible to women? What about the structure or even mode of pedagogy needs to change to ensure that we attract and retain women in our institution? The same applies to the spaces or environment in our industries. Are we reinventing these spaces to tap into women’s potential and catalyse their productivity? Without these measures ‘economic growth and increased investments’ will remain beautiful phrases on paper that do not resonate with the greater parts of this continent.
The writer is the Chairlady of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org